A new Deseret News-KSL television poll indicates that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) might have renomination problems if Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) challenges him next year, but the poll has significant methodological flaws.
A survey of 496 Utah residents by Dan Jones & Associates over February 8-10 shows the six-term senator leading the second-term congressman 44-34%, but these results are virtually meaningless. The poll’s sampling universe, aside from being statistically small, is simply of Utah “residents,” not even qualifying them as registered voters. A subset of the self-identified Republicans gives Hatch a 51-35% margin over Chaffetz, which is somewhat more significant. Whittling down further to those who call themselves “very conservative” yields the same numerical result (51-35%) but inverted in Chaffetz’s favor. The number of people questioned in the final subset is not stated but must be quite small, again bringing the reliability factor into question.
Chaffetz has not committed to entering the Senate race, but doesn’t yet rule out an intra-primary challenge to the state’s senior senator, who was originally elected in 1976. Hatch has not made a formal re-election announcement, but gives every indication he will seek another term. To underscore his preparation, GOP state chairman Dave Hansen, fresh from a hugely positive 2010 election result, resigned his position last month in order to prepare a re-election effort for the senator. Hansen was Hatch’s manager for the 2006 campaign.
The big test for Sen. Hatch, as it was for ex-Sen. Bob Bennett who failed, will be surviving the 2012 Republican state convention. Utah election procedure still gives the party convention nominating powers, thus it is a hugely important event. Under the party rules, if a candidate receives 60% of the convention vote, the individual is automatically nominated. If no one achieves that number, as was the case last year, then the top two finishers face the full GOP electorate in a full-fledged primary.
As Sen. Hatch knows, the state convention will not be won by polls or television ads. When dealing with insider politics, personalities play a big role as does ideological purity. The Utah Tea Party organizations showed up in force in the 2010 caucuses and elected delegates who would oppose Bennett. Could such a ploy happen again? Possibly, since Hatch also voted for the various financial bail-out bills that fired up the Utah activists. He is doing everything in his power to neutralize their past opposition, however, working fervently to avoid his former colleague’s fate.
Should Hatch be forced into a primary against Chaffetz, or another credible GOP challenger, he will be regarded as a heavy favorite because so many more people will participate in voting. The general election, considering Utah’s strong Republican history particularly in presidential years, should be a breeze for him. The larger the electorate, the better the senator will perform because of name familiarity, campaign resources, and Utah voter history.
Though the Dan Jones news media poll must be regarded as unreliable, the fact that Hatch places behind Chaffetz among those self-describing themselves as “very conservative” still must be of concern to the senator and his supporters. It is this very wing of the party that ousted Bennett in 2010, and are at least considering running a similar effort against Hatch next year.
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